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Q&A With B2B Marketing Expert Ardath Albee: The Content Marketing Payoff

Ardath AlbeeContent marketing leaders will come together this month at the B2B Content2Conversion Conference. Among them is Ardath Albee, B2B marketing strategist and CEO of Marketing Interactions Inc. Recently, Demand Gen Report had the opportunity to discuss current content marketing trends as well as tips on distributing content across social channels with Albee.

Albee will share insights on crafting a killer B2B content strategy during a C2C Power Panel featuring Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute and Ann Handley, author of Content Rules.

Demand Gen Report: Marketers are always stating that "content marketing is on the rise," but there are a small, yet significant, number that don't understand its purpose. What do you say to these B2B marketers?

Ardath Albee: There’s a big difference in producing content for the sake of content and content for the purpose of content marketing. Content designed for the execution of a content marketing strategy speaks to prospects and customers at the exact point that their needs intersect with what the company provides. It’s designed to educate them about solving a problem, provide expertise that helps them understand your value, as well as evidence that you walk your talk.

It is not focused on products, features or feeds and speeds. It’s focused on what your products, services or solutions help your customers to achieve. This content is focused on the buyer’s perceptions and provides a connected pathway that helps them advance their journey toward a purchase decision.

Non-believers are the ones who pump out useless content without a purpose and then wonder why nothing happened. The biggest caveat to content marketing is that it takes time to come to fruition. It is not a magic bullet that will instantly create sales. Patience and persistence are required. Content marketing pays off. I see it every day or I wouldn’t be doing what I do.

DGR: You'll be presenting during the C2C Power Panel along with other content marketing experts, Joe Pulizzi and Ann Handley. Can you brief our readers on current trends you're seeing in the industry?

Albee: Here are some of the top things I’m seeing:

Adoption of Personas: I’ve been creating personas for companies for a long time. It used to be very hard to convince marketers this was necessary, but now they’re sold before they call me. And, rather than having me do the work and deliver the outcome, clients are staying involved during the entire process, interested in learning how to do the work, why it’s important and where the personas provide valuable input to content strategy.

Quality Content vs. Crap: I think Velocity Partners has produced the best content about this evolution of understanding about content marketing. This goes to the trend of churning out content just to put something in front of an audience with the misguided notion that it will keep their company top of mind in a good way. The noise level online is deafening with this type of garbage and marketers who get it are starting to call foul on marketers who don’t. This is also another reason you have the nonbelievers referenced in your first question above.

Lack of Strategy For A Continuum: It pains me to say this, but I’m still not seeing strategies designed across the entirety of the buying process—including customer retention and advocacy. What I’m seeing is still mostly campaign driven. And it’s just not good enough. Stop and start content that focuses on a monthly or quarterly execution isn’t going to suit the needs of buyers who have a 9 month to 18 month buying process.

Recent research by IDG found that buyers will engage with 10 pieces of content across their buying process. If each campaign has two or three touches, then you’d better hope that each “theme” you choose will be useful to them. If marketers do the work to gain a true understanding of their buyers and the priorities they’re trying to achieve, they’d find an endless potential for storytelling that covers their buyers needs at each stage. This calls for a continuum approach, not stringing together a bunch of unconnected campaigns.

  • Native Advertising: There seems to be a big uproar about native advertising as being deceptive, bad and brand damaging. It’s a controversial topic that I don’t think merits the outrage. But I also think it depends on how marketers and publishers handle it. I wrote about it here.
  • Social Selling: I’m hearing a lot about this on the sales side of the equation, but marketers need to pay attention, as well. What concerns me is that salespeople will be out there telling their story and marketers will be sharing their version and pretty soon we’ll have fragmented brands. If you really think about it, social selling applies to both marketing and sales—and both sides need to be in alignment about it. In fact, marketing actually has what sales needs to do this well. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. My post about sales enablement for social selling.

DGR: It's no secret that content is best distributed through social means. With the number of channels available today, marketers continue to struggle with finding the right distribution strategy. What's your secret?

Albee: This is pretty simple. Use the channels your buyers use. It’s not about the shiny new toy, it’s about what you can point to and show how it contributes to downstream revenue. But it’s also about connecting the dots. Whatever channels you do use should all serve as homing beacons back to your website, blog—whatever online properties your company owns. Even better, each content asset should provide a path/link to the next part of the story. Don’t leave your audience stranded with nowhere else to go. Once you have engagement, it’s all about guidance. Yet another reason why strategy is so important.